Helsinki & Tallinn

The overnight train arrived back in Helsinki early on Sunday morning after a long week up north in Lapland.  There wouldn’t be any time to rest, however, as this was the start of a week of fun in northern Europe.  I left the train station for a hotel a few blocks away to meet my friend Steve, who had agreed become my travel buddy for the rest of the week.  I had last seen Steve 4 years ago, but after only a couple hours together it quickly felt like we had seen each other a week ago.

SteveOnFerry
Steve stretches out on the ferry ride to Suomenlinna Fortress in Helsinki. Relaxation would not always come often on our trip; we walked nearly 10 miles each day.

Our first destination was the island fortress of Suomenlinna, off the coast of Helsinki.  Originally built in the 18th century as defense against the Russian military, the fortress has evolved quite a bit over the years.  The island is now a living community and historical monument to the relatively short history (by European standards) of Helsinki.  Many locals visit the island in the summertime to have a picnic and enjoy the water.

SuomenlinnaCollage
TL: Parts of Suomenlinna Fortress looked an awful lot like the Shire, I kept waiting for a hobbit to stroll by. TR: The final resting place of Augustin Ehrensvärd, the man responsible for construction of the fortress in the 18th century. BL: Vesikko, the last remaining submarine of the Finnish military, retired at the end of WWII BR: Much of the island is filled with park areas, many locals visit the island just enjoy nature.

After dinner in Helsinki and with the help of some friends from ISR school we happened to run into that night in the city, we made a last minute decision to explore outside of Finland.  We hopped on a ferry the next morning and made the 2.5 hour trip across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia.

Helsinki-Tallinn-RouteMap
Perhaps some of my readers know their eastern European geography better than me when I first started planning my trip, but this map shows the short route between Helsinki and Tallinn and the relative location compared to other parts of northern Europe. Google tells me it takes 3.5 hours by car (?) to cross the Gulf of Finland, so I guess the ferry was the quicker option.

Visiting Tallinn was absolutely the correct decision.  Tallinn is one of the oldest capitals in all of Europe and their Old Town is a beautiful, well-preserved medieval city.  We only had about 3 hours (enough to check it off the list of countries I’ve visited!) but we could easily have spent a couple days there.  We hustled through a quick loop of the city in the drizzling rain to catch a glimpse of as much as we could, but there wasn’t even enough time to sit and enjoy a meal in one of the charming little squares.  Before we knew it we had to board the ferry and head back to Finland.

TallinnCollage
TL: One of the gateways to Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia TR: Aerial view of Old Town. It was a drizzly day but the city was still beautiful BL: Monk statues guard a small courtyard below a cafe overlooking Old Town. BR: A fairly common view down any street in Old Town of Tallinn.
TallinnArchery
Perhaps we didn’t leave time to sit and enjoy one of the squares in Tallinn (left) but there’s always time for archery competition in a medieval town (right?!). Steve won the competition.

The next morning we had plenty of time left in Helsinki to finish exploring the city.  The city is very clean and quite modern, and is also extremely walkable.  A few cathedrals and one more taste of Finnish cuisine (e.g. salmon, reindeer, moose, etc.) at the seaside market square wrapped up our first couple of days.

HelsinkiCollage
Just a few highlights of Helsinki from our last half day in the city. Left: Me standing out front of the Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral with a statue of Russian Tsar Alexander II in between. Right: The Three Smiths Statue in Helsinki.

That afternoon we caught a very short flight to Stockholm for the remainder of the trip.  I’ll save the rest of our journey for another post.

Until next time…